Last weekend, I picked up a book by Thich Nhat Than that I had read in the past and started to re-read the pages of “the miracle of mindfulness”. The book opens with a conversation between the author and his friend Allen about the demands of family life. Allen has a wife Sue and 2 children: Joey and Anna, a newborn. His life has the demands of family life which requires the dedication of time to his family. As they discuss further, Allen says: “I’ve discovered a way to have a lot more time. In the past, I used to look at my time as if it were divided into several parts. One part I reserved for Joey, another part was for Sue, another part was to help with Ana, another part for household work. The time left over I considered my own. I could read, write, do research, go for walk.”
“But now I try not to divide my time into parts anymore. I consider my time with Joey and Sue as my own time. When I help Joey with his homework, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my own time. I go through his lesson with him, sharing his presence and finding ways of being interested in what we do during that time. The same with Sue. The remarkable thing is that now I have unlimited time for myself.”
As I read this passage, I had a real “aha!” moment. As a yoga teacher, I try to practice what I preach. I get on my mat a number of times a week and try to stay mindful throughout my activities of the day. But it is possible to do one’s practice and go into auto-pilot. We get trapped in our stories. At the moment my story is that I am tired. I am 18 months into the setting up of a new business, with very few days off or holidays. After Brexit, I am also an anxious European, concerned about the future and our status here. And I have gotten stuck in my rut/story of being a tired and anxious EU citizen. Even though, these 2 situations are real and need to be acknowledged and possibly dealt with, they do not define me or my whole life. As much as there are moments when I am tired, there are also moments of energy and joy. As much as I may be anxious about the future, the here and now is full of opportunities and moments to embrace. We may be the sum of our experiences, but that is all our experiences, not just the ones we choose to focus on and make our story. Reading this passage instantly made me feel less tired and less anxious as I was able to shift my focus to some degree at least and embrace the rest.
Thich Nhat Hahn invites us to embrace every moment of our lives. My teacher used to say “remember to remember”. And that is it. We often forget. So from being an exhausted and anxious EU citizen, I can revert to just being myself, that constant shifting and evolving self, living one experience at a time. From being the exhausted parent catering to a family with no time to ourselves, we can become fully engaged in that experience, our whole life becoming “our” time. From being an absent partner, husband, wife or friend, we can allow ourselves to be fully present to the relationships we are fortunate enough to have and experience in our lives. Our yoga and meditation practice can allow us to shift those stories as we become more attuned and more observant of our behaviors and learn to acknowledge them. Seeing our story visibly and clearly as such can allow us to shift it, altering our perception of the situation we may feel stuck of wrapped up in. And a sense of liberation may ensue.
But it requires us to stay present throughout life and that includes our yoga and meditation practice. As much as our practice is a gateway to leading a life of presence, we can bring our stories and patterns into our practice. We constantly need to “remember to remember” in order to not fall into the trappings of the autopilot mode and of our stories.